Schools: Cadet Expansion Programme - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:58 pm on 18th June 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat 5:58 pm, 18th June 2019

My Lords, like other Members who have spoken this evening I welcome this debate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, for raising an important topic, but one not frequently discussed in your Lordships’ House or elsewhere. It is also unusual in that it appears to have brought all sides of your Lordships’ House together. The noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, told us a little about the history of the cadets and made clear why they matter, while my noble friend Lady Garden and the noble Lords, Lord Robathan and Lord Adonis, talked about the importance of having CCFs in state schools and, in some ways, claimed ownership of the policy.

It is quite unusual to have the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat Benches all agreeing. I hope that is a good thing. When the Minister responds to the debate, it will probably make his job a little easier than it was in the days when Ministers had to keep batting away the brickbats of issues where we fundamentally disagreed with the Government Front Bench. So, this evening, I hope the Minister will be able to give lots of positive answers.

We have heard about the importance of cadet forces, CCFs and the Cadet Expansion Programme, but we have also heard about how it is funded. It was funded by Libor. That was a limited amount of funding and I will return to that point later because I have a series of questions for the Minister. So far this evening we have had very few questions and a lot of positive speeches, so I want to press the Minister on a few areas where there is agreement in the Chamber to see whether there is also agreement from the Ministry of Defence.

We heard from all sides of the House about the importance of giving young people, whatever their background, the opportunity to engage with cadet forces. It should not be the preserve of private schools. As a declaration of non-interest, my school did not have a CCF. The boys’ school along the road did but I was never invited to go along and join the boys’ CCF. When I was at school, it probably would not have occurred to me to engage in something that sounded military, but on reading up about the aims of the CCF and the Community Cadet Forces, it becomes clear what purpose they serve beyond the military. It is about engagement, service and creating skills and self-confidence. Those are the sort of attributes that every child and young person needs, whatever their background. Therefore, embedding CCFs more fully in state schools is something to which we should all aspire. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, pointed out that, even in Wiltshire there is only one CCF embedded in a state school, which is really surprising.

To what extent will the Government be ambitious? Will they take up the challenge of the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, and have more CCFs and Community Cadet Forces, but perhaps not in the way suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis? He seemed to suggest taking money from the private schools to give to state schools. My question would be: how can the overall programme be increased? If that means redistributing funding, that may be necessary, but my first question would be: is there an opportunity to expand programmes more generally?

In particular, I was reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, that in many ways the current scheme is a No. 10 initiative. It came from David Cameron and Nick Clegg, who are not necessarily figures prayed in aid very often in 2019. It was a good initiative, but it was from No. 10, so how far does the Ministry of Defence buy into the current scheme? Beyond the Libor funding, what commitment are the MoD, or the Government more generally, willing to make? Is the Chief of the General Staff as committed as Members of your Lordships’ House are, and as Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and David Cameron were, to these schemes? Surely it needs leadership from the top. Can we be reassured that the Ministry of Defence is committed to this?

Is there ongoing commitment from the Department for Education? The other point reiterated this evening is that, while cadet forces might serve as a form of recruitment, that is not their intention. It is vital, therefore, that there is a real commitment from teachers and from the Department for Education. Several noble Lords mentioned that in private schools it is often the teachers themselves who have been committed to running CCFs, and that is what made them so effective. What are the Government doing to ensure that teachers in a variety of schools feel that it is worth while committing to creating CCFs or separate cadet forces?

It is not simply a question of money and personal remuneration for individual teachers. That is not the issue. Most teachers are committed to their jobs, and if they are running CCFs, they will do it with passion and commitment, but clearly there is a limit to everybody’s time, so it is important that there is real buy-in. What are the Government doing to ensure that teachers and schools are supported? In particular, what scope is there for going out to deal with the pent-up demand? The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, indicated that there is a lot of enthusiasm among young people to be part of cadet forces, but they are unable to join them because their schools do not provide them and, in some cases, there are no community forces either. What are the Government doing to ensure that there are more adult volunteers who can run Community Cadet Forces? What are they doing to encourage schools, beyond Ofsted, which can be a mixed blessing? What are the Government doing to encourage schools to feel that having cadet forces is a real benefit?

Here I shall make a slightly negative comment and then draw to a close. This evening we have all spoken pretty well with one voice. In the Library briefing was an article by Emma Sangster, who clearly has rather a different view of cadet forces. She points out that the research that has been done—the Ecorys report—seems slightly dated and of insufficient depth. It cannot show causality. It suggests that people involved in CCFs tend to be quite confident, to do their homework, to be very committed and to be socially aware, but it does not show causality. It is possible that people naturally prone to being good citizens are also enticed to join the cadet forces. What can be done to ensure that we have better data on recruitment?

I apologise—I know I have said “finally” once before, and I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, the Whip, is looking at me—but I have a final point. One of the issues about recruitment to the Army is that the ranks are often recruited from estates yet senior officers come from private schools. It is less the case with the Navy and the Air Force. What can be done to expand the CCF programme so that a much broader range of people engage with the Army in particular? If we are looking at social mobility and key reasons to support this, this would be one way of actively being able to say that CCFs are good for society as a whole.